Shunsen Natori (1886 - 1960) was born in Tokyo under the name Natori Yoshinosuke. The son of a silk merchant, Shunsen took an early interest in art; he studied nihonga (Japanese style painting) under Kubota Beisen and in 1906, exhibited his first works. Shunsen then studied at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts and began working as an illustrator for the newspaper Asahi Shinbun where he became interested in depicting kabuki actors.
In 1919, Shunsen retired from Japanese style painting and began publishing prominent actor portraits. Shunsen developed his greatest work in 1925 after a short break, producing 36 Portraits of Actors, a series that demonstrated his fine artistic skill. This series was displayed at the first Toledo Museum in 1930, earning him international acclaim. Tragically, in 1958, Shunsen’s beloved daughter Yoshiko passed away from pneumonia. Emotionally ruined and unable to get over her death, Shunsen and his wife committed suicide by poison over her grave two years later.
Shunsen’s work is known for its vibrant expression and emotion, most readily viewed in his actor portraits in the okubi-e (large head) layout. He is largely regarded as the last ukiyo-e artist to work in actor prints in the traditional manner.
In art, the hand can never execute anything higher than the heart can image. - Ralph Waldo Emerson